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Special Report

President gives himself wiggle room on White House tours

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 13, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, I have to say this was not a decision that went up to the White House, but what the Secret Service explained to us was that they are going to have to furlough some folks.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In order to allow the Secret Service to best fulfill its core mission, the White House made the decision that we would unfortunately have to temporarily suspend these tours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, that was the president on ABC and Jay Carney earlier this week talking about the White House tours being suspended because of the sequester. President in that interview went on to say this about the sequester, quote, "I'm always amused when people on one hand say -- the sequester doesn't mean anything and the administration's exaggerating its effects; and then whatever the specific effects are, they yell and scream and say, 'why are you doing that'? Well, there are consequences to Congress not having to come up with a more sensible way to reduce the deficit."

So with that, let's bring in the panel from Washington, senior writer for The Weekly Standard Steve Hayes, Charles Lane, opinion writer for the Washington Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.  Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it's yet another demonstration of the White House's arms length relationship with the truth. Benghazi was a spontaneous riot. A week later, the president says, well, we are not really sure. Then the secretary of state angrily says what difference does it make at this point? And everybody considers it a brilliant retort where it was an empty bluster and challenge that nobody picked up. The difference it makes is that truth matters and the origins of all that, what is happening in North Africa really matters.

This is a more trivial example. But again it always has a point. And the point was to shut down the tours deliberately as a way to apply the pain of the sequester in a way that will be unmistakable, that will be out there, and then you could then turn and blame the Republicans, which is the way the administration has handled it.

Actually, it didn't help them. People understood this was a cynical move. If the president had cut out one of his golfing trips by the new calculations he could have had three months of kids going through happily on the White House tours. So he can make choices. He didn't. And now he puts out story A, a second story is out there. Then he leaves it up to Jay Carney to do gymnastics and work it out.

BAIER: Here is what Carney said today, Chuck.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He has asked the White House to consult with the Secret Service to see if there is any way to provide limited tours to school groups or others. That is being reviewed. But I should be clear that the choices here, there is not an option here to reopen the tours in general here, because again, that is not an option because of the sequester cuts.  These are labor intensive operations that require thousands of man hours by the Secret Service.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: What about this?

CHARLES LANE, WASHINGTON POST: I don't know. I guess I'm not quite as scandalized about it as everybody else. I mean, come on -- look, this is what you do in politics. This is the old fireman's first or close the Washington Monument first rule --

BAIER: But they got busted doing it and now they're reversing it.

LANE: So what? The real question I have is why does it cost so much money to run White House tours? Why is it so labor intensive? Why are there so many hours of overtime built into this process? Nobody is asking those questions. Maybe the whole thing doesn't need to be this expensive in the first place.

But really, it seems to me entirely possible that both versions are true, that the Secret Service told them look, here is a menu of things you can do to deal with the furlough. And the White House said, "ah, great. One of them is cut the White House tour. We'll do that."

BAIER: Right. And now they are getting called on it. Tonight's Twitter question, by the way, @vanceypance asked this, "Why don't we have Obama's PAC pay for White House tours? Rich people are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to see him." Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I mean, that is one idea. There are other private rich people who have offered to pay for tours. That was shot down.

I think the problem with giving the White House the benefit out on the tours is that they have now shown in example, after example, after example is that they haven't earned the benefit of the doubt. So I don't think they frankly deserve it at this point.

I thought the bigger news out of the interview that he gave yesterday was once again is his almost cavalier attitude toward the growing debt. The president basically says debt is not a problem. It's not going to be a problem for a decade. We really don't need to worry about it. It's the same thing he told David Letterman last year in an interview six weeks before the election. I think it's a shocking claim. I think it is a problem. We're borrowing $4 billion a day. That is a short-term problem.  It suggests to me that the president isn't serious about cutting the deficit. He doesn't care much about the debt because he doesn't regard it as an urgent problem – or at least not as urgent as Republicans. And he is certainly not willing to risk political capital in order to do -- to address something he doesn't think is a serious problem.

BAIER: Here is what he said, "We don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt. In fact for the next 10 years it's going to be a sustainable place." Charles, this is what he said in 2008.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents.  Number 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome so that we have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back, $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That's irresponsible. That's unpatriotic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: "Unpatriotic"?

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes, and extremely hypocritical. As I was saying, arm's length relationship with the truth. Truth for the president is what you can use. He used it then and now he has a new truth and he'll use it now.

BAIER: We have an online show tonight. We'll continue this discussion in just a bit. That is it for this panel because of the ongoing coverage from Rome, but stay tuned as one couple gets off the sacrament of marriage to maybe a rocky start.

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